Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Seasons Market

I recently took a little trip to Oregon to visit some friends in Corvallis. On the drive down, D and I were able to stop off at one of our favorite easy places to eat in Portland: The New Seasons Market grocery store.

This place is great for so many reasons, starting with being easily accessible from I-5. Second, it is chock full of all of the organic, fancy, conscientiously made natural market type delicacies that we are used to breaking the bank for in Seattle, but at prices that are significantly cheaper than what we are used to. And third, they have an excellent deli/sorta restaurant/salad bar/fresh food area that is full of variety and delicious things.

To start this particular visit off in an extra nice way, we were greeted upon entering with a butter tasting extravaganza. There were probably a dozen or more butters, ranging from Parmesan butter from France, to local goat butter, to vegan butter. They were set out for sampling with pieces of delicious bread.
Look at all that butter!

After eating perhaps more than a recommended daily amount of butter, we set off to the hot foods section. D ordered the "farmers plate," which is an often changing plate of food made from the in season produce and animals of local farms. On this day, it was a pulled pork sandwich made from local, organic, humanely raised pork and all sorts of salads and fixins. Not vegetarian at all, but the "right" way to do meat, IMHO, if you're going to do it.
I had an excellent plate of food from the "build your own" wok station, a sort of salad bar full of Asian food inspired ingredients that you pile into a bowl then hand over the counter to a nice employee who adds some sauce and cooks it up. I had green and purple cabbage, bell peppers, edamame, fresh tofu, bok choy, baby corn, water chest nuts, peanuts, broccoli, fresh ginger and garlic all stir fried with some noodles in a spicy red coconut curry sauce.
They had maybe a dozen sauces to choose from, and at least half of them were vegan.

The New Seasons Market has a clean, pleasant eating area that felt calm and relaxing where you can take your fresh meal and sit down.

I always look forward to eating here, and there are always more than enough vegetarian/vegan choices to keep me standing around hmming and hawwwing for a long time before ordering.

New Seasons Market
Multiple Locations

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boom Noodle

I've skirted around Boom Noodle since it opened, getting excited about it, then having my excitement dampened by all of the fish used in the broth. Recently another vegetarian friend recommended that I give it a shot because she thought it was good, and I was really happy to go and find that she was totally right.

Boom Noodles has an airy, clean, bright, modern feel and has rows of communal tables inside. I am not necessarily a fan of communal tables in the sense that I sometimes don't even want to talk to my dining companions, much less to strangers, but the wait staff were seating people a respectful distance apart. So no problems there.

It is true that the menu has more non-vegetarian options than vegetarian ones, but they've done something AWESOME that makes up for it: They have two little symbols, a V to indicate vegetarian items, and a little fish icon to indicate items made with fish stock/bonito/whatever. I was so appreciative of the little fish icon- whether there is something fishy in Japanese food is always the trick to eating it as a vegetarian and I was so appreciative of this measure they've taken to make it easier.

We started with an appetizer that exceeded both of our expectations: The miso broiled rice cakes.
They weren't rice cakes in the crunchy styrofoamy sense, rather they were little cakes of regular rice that had been compacted and broiled to get a slight crust just on the outside, covered with carmalized miso and Asian slaw, and then placed in a pile of creamy garlicky tofu sauce. The plate had a miso sauce and a spicy sauce drizzled onto it.
For the main entree, I got a really wonderful surprise: The roasted beet ramen, which I had both admired and loathed from a distance due to its contents of fish stock, now came with the choice of being vegan. I couldn't believe my luck. Ordering was a no brainer.

The soup came and was gorgeously red in an off kilter white bowl.
The broth was fantastic. It was everything I could ever want in a broth... it was rich and complex and vegan and beautiful (and salty, perhaps a bit too salty, but not sweet). It had bits of delicious, salty, vinegary pickled umeboshi plum, and savory, herby shiso. It also had some wakame, which I let float around and flavour the broth but didn't eat.

Also in the broth was a pile of sliced roasted beets, which tasted excellent and were surprisingly not too sweet.

The soba noodles were a lovely shade of smoky pink, but were a little bit too gritty in texture for my preference. I realize this is often just the nature of soba noodles.

I could have enjoyed some tofu cubes for a little variety and added nutrition, but it was pretty darn tasty as it was. I did enhance the broth with some spices, which they had present on the table.

My little friends

One disadvantage was a friendly but pushy waiter who was hell bent on selling us drinks and desserts, two items that we didn't indulge in. I generally don't have a problem saying no to waiters trying to do this, but he was so persistent it was starting to feel like we weren't being good patrons or were too nerdy to be there just because we were in the market for just dinner (and heck, an appetizer!).

We had many interactions along these lines:

Him: Are you guys going to just drink water or get something more exciting?
Me: We're just going to to drink water
Him: (sarcastic) Uh, yeah. It is Friday night, you better take it easy.

Not a big deal in the scope of things. Just be prepared to potentially put up a guard if you don't want to end up with an "all the expensive extras" type of meal.

Thanks E for the suggestion!

Boom Noodle
(206) 701-9130
1121 E Pike St
Seattle, WA 98122

Boom Noodle on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Red Hook Brewery

D and I rode our bikes to the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville. The ride was 38.5 miles round trip from where we hopped on the Burke Gilman trail in the U District, and consisted of easy, fun, scenic riding along the Burke Gilman Trail, and then along the Sammamish River Trail.
I was pretty excited about eating lunch at the brewery because I tend to have a strong fantasy about factories, and breweries, and wineries, etc... places where things are made! I always hope that the food is going to be specialized and feel close to the source. But it rarely does.

And this was (as I should have forseen, ARG!) no exception, more like a money trap full of expensive but average pub fare. (Where was the beer battered ____? Or the cheddar beer soup? Or the beer bread???)

I started off sort of peeved in a spoiled way by a detail on the menu: It was possible to substitute a Boca burger for any meat patty on the menu (nice!), but it would cost an additional $1. WTF? There is no way a Boca burger costs that much more than meat. And a boca burger can be frozen for a long long time, making it even cheaper for a restaurant to provide. But the other vegetarian options (salads, nachos, etc) weren't feeling appealing, so I sucked it up and ordered a burger.

And it was fine. Not remarkable in any way really, other than being made slightly unpalatable by the additional cost. I did appreciate the addition of some grapes to the plate.
The bun looks sort of good in this picture, but it was served cold and had that bad cold bread texture

D ordered vegetarian nachos, and got a huge pile that was pretty good. We were able to exercise one of the things I've learned about getting better value (IE: not getting screwed over) as a vegetarian in a restaurant:

If there are two versions of an item on the menu, say:

Nachos 1: Include all kinds of fixins', including meat and beans. Cost= $13
Nachos 2: Includes a subset of the fixins', excluding meat AND beans. Cost= $9

It is almost always a better deal to order the Nachos #2 and ADD beans than it is to order #1 and subtract the meat.

Ok, Nuff said.
They did have a dessert on the menu that was totally intriguing to me: the Blackhook Porter Sundae, and I was quick to forget that I still needed to ride my bike home and decided to go for full indulgence.

It was right up my ally: ice cream made with Blackhook Porter ice cream covered with whipped cream and caramelized bananas, caramel sauce, and candied walnuts. These add up to nearly my favorite ice cream sundae. The Porter ice cream was interesting... I could definitely taste the almost smoky flavour of the beer and it left a hoppy bitter aftertaste. It took a little bit of conscientious appreciation to enjoy, but I did enjoy it and was totally glad to have ordered it.
The whole ordeal, including the bike ride to an indulgent destination and then the ride home that starts with groans (and perhaps a bit of weaving depending upon level of indulgence) but ends feeling awesome, was really fun. What would I do different next time? Maybe (if the weather was nice enough, and it wasn't when we went)... I'd take a picnic and spread out at one of the nearby wineries, and then drop by Red Hook for a beer and dessert. Or maybe for a big pile of chips and salsa. Or a plate of nachos to share with a group. But I probably wouldn't go for the full meal again unless circumstances other than my own dictated the situation.

Red Hook Brewery
Forecasters Pub
(425) 483-3232
14300 NE 145th St
Woodinville, WA 98072

Forecasters Public House on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 3, 2008

Szechuan Noodle Bowl

The Szechuan Noodle bowl is a little restaurant in the International District that would be easy to pass by. The windows are plastered with sun faded menus and it is hard to guess what kind of noodle magic is occurring within. But once inside the tiny quiet restaurant you can see the secret: there is a woman there, sitting at a table, quietly cranking out homemade dumplings.
The restaurant is also extremely reasonably priced, underpriced possibly, and we ordered liberally. Our first appetizer was Seaweed with Garlic, which had a pleasing texture unlike that of any land vegetables, but tasted a bit too fishy for my liking.
We also ordered "Peanuts", for $2, which came to the table boiled soft with spices and salt and the distinct flavour of anise.
Next we ordered Cold Noodles with Sesame sauce and Vegetables (around $5.00). The noodles were fat and square and homemade, and were perfectly chewy in texture. The sauce was similar to a rich peanut sauce, but was made with sesame seeds instead. The vegetables were carrots and cucumber and a little chopped green onion.
Then came our dumplings, and I am delighted to report that they have 2 vegetarian dumpling choices, including the wonderful Spinach and Tofu, which I ordered with a hot and spicy sauce. A (filling) bowl of 10 dumplings cost $5.75.
Each dumpling had a belly full of delicious perfectly steamed and lightly seasoned spinach with bits of tofu, and was surrounded by another example of homemade noodles done right. They were soft and chewy and firm at the same time. The sauce was really tasty too... a little bit spicy, a little bit vinegary, a little bit oily.
What a delight to find such inexpensive, good simple food. I think that when I go back I'm going to skip straight to the dumplings.

Szechuan Noodle Bowl

420 8th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 623-4198

Szechuan Noodle Bowl on Urbanspoon